Getting Children Involved
Docent, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Colorado Springs, CO
Two quotes sum up very well the goals of docents everywhere. “In the end, We will conserve only what we love, We will love only what we understand, We will understand only what we are taught,” written by Baba Dioum, a famous Senegalese Environmentalist. “Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember, Involve me and I learn,” by Benjamin Franklin.
Involving children has been the goal from the beginning of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s outreach program. ZOOM (Zoo on the MOVE) was started in 1987 by the Docents to introduce kids to up-close experience with amphibians and reptiles. There was a period of time when animals were not allowed off zoo grounds because of contact with outside animals (AZA rules) but in 2007 the LOFT was opened at the zoo and that all changed. The renewal of the Animal Outreach Program began. The Education Curator, Nicole Mantz hired Kellie McGregor as Outreach Coordinator. Kellie, with the help of the other young keepers in our LOFT (Outreach Headquarters), Erica Garroutte, Ashley Young, Hailey Smith, and Diane Vandergiessen created programs that allowed kids from preschool to high school to learn about amphibians, reptiles, mammals, arthropods and their habitats. There is a Prairie Ecosystem program and conservation was threaded through all the programs. The students went on imaginary hikes and turned their classmates into reptiles, amphibians, mammals and arthropods. They became habitats that needed to be protected for the animals that lived there. And in some programs they became prey and predators and learned how a loss of either affected their habitat. They had fun doing it.
“The Hike Through North America” is presented for preschool to 2nd grade. It’s an imaginary hike that allows students to ”Stretch their legs and get the heart pumping as we take a hike to discover animals that live in North America! Not only do you get to see the animals, but you might get to touch them too.”
We start by standing in a circle and preparing for the hike. What do you need to take on a hike? Water, snacks, a hat, sun block, good boots, all these things go into an imaginary back pack. Let’s hike. It’s getting really hot, no trees, not much water, what kind of habitat are we in? Is it a desert? What animals do you see? I see an animal! (Students sit down, quickly) It’s time for the Desert King Snake to arrive.
Let’s go on with our hike. I need a drink. Oh, it’s getting cooler and I see some trees and a sea of grass. It’s windy and the grass is waving in the breeze. What kind of habitat are we in now? It’s the Prairie or grassland. What animals live in the prairie? I see an animal! Now it’s the Tortoise time.
What great fun, let’s move on. I see a stream over there, let’s head that way. Boy, it’s a lot cooler, lots of trees. But how do we get to the other side? We swim of course but don’t get stuck in the mud. How do we dry off? We forgot our towels? How do dogs get dry? They shake and so do we. What kind of habitat is this? It’s a wetland. What kind of animals do you see? I see an animal! How about a Tiger Salamander?
Where are we going next? I see lots of trees, beautiful tall trees. What habitat is this, a forest? What animals do you see here? I see an animal! Is there a skunk in the forest? Of course, then we have to hike back to school.
“Living With Wildlife” is given to 3rd grade and up. It is an eco-friendly program where our animal friends will show you why they’re too special not to keep around. They learn how humans and animals can share our world. This program uses lots of stuffed animals. We use Beanie Babies. Now we ask the students what a habitat is and what animals need to live there. Have the students stand and tell them they are the habitats for the animals they hold. Pass out 2 or 3 Beanies to each student and tell them that all animals that fall on the floor are extinct. Hold animals only in your hands, not
on your shoulders or on your heads.
- Identify ¼ of the class and tell them they are a forest habitat. Some careless campers failed to put out their campfire and the forest burns. What happens to the animals? They move. Take the animals from that ¼ and pass them to the next ¼. Losing their animals, they sit down.
- Pick another ¼ and tell them they are a wetlands habitat. Along comes an unethical tanker driver and decides to clean out his truck using the wetlands. What happens? Pollution. And how do the animals react? They move. Take these animals and pass them to another ¼. No animals, you sit down. Leave one student standing.
- Take the 3rd ¼ and let them be a park with hiking and biking trails. Let them know some reckless people didn’t abide by the rules and went off path and destroyed the habitat. What do the animals do? Animals move and down you sit.
- Ask the students in the last quarter if there is something they see that could destroy a habitat, hunters out of season, builders clearing all trees off lands, using outlawed pesticides, etc. What happens to the animals? They move. Now all the students are seated except one and all the beanies are piled on that student.
- Then ask the class, can all the animals survive in one habitat? Is there enough food, water, space? Lastly ask the kids what each of the “bad guys” could have done to correct their actions and still have fun or get their job done?
“Animal Transformers” is presented to 3rd to 5th grades. What makes a reptile a reptile, an amphibian an amphibian, a mammal a mammal or an arthropod an arthropod? Pick a volunteer from the class to become a Reptile. Then name the characteristic of a reptile: Scales-wrap volunteer in bubble wrap, Cold Blooded-give him a thermometer, lays eggs-2 ping pong balls, backbone-hang on the bubble wrap. Does the volunteer look like a reptile now?
Pick another student to be an Amphibian. Name the characteristics of an amphibian; Cold Blooded-thermometer, Semi-permeable Skin-safety vest, Lays Soft Eggs in Water–cotton balls, Two stages of life-attach tail, Stays Wet-water bottle, Backbone-cut out. Does he look like an amphibian now?
Pick a student to be an Arthropod. Give characteristics of an arthropod; Exoskeleton-big card board box with holes on left & right side, Many, Jointed Legsrolled up construction paper, Bilateral Symmetry-picture of butterfly, Cold Bloodedthermometer. Is this an arthropod now?
Pick a last student to be a Mammal. Give the characteristics of a mammal; Hair or Fur-wig, Warm Blooded-Hot Hands, Live Birth-Beanie Baby, Nurse their young – milk carton (empty), Backbone-picture to pin on child. Yea, now he’s a mammal.
“Prairie Puzzle” is for 1st grade and up and also community groups and events in which the topic is of interest. What’s the solution to the prairie puzzle? Let your students find out with this fun program about the amazing animals of the prairie and how they work together to keep the ecosystem going strong. Pick 6 of the students to be prairie predators: snakes, badgers, birds of prey, black-footed ferrets, coyote and swift foxes. Then pick 6 or more students for each of these prey: prairie dogs, rabbits, moles, lizards, snakes and ask them to line up behind each predator. What happens
when all the rabbits are gone? All the predators still have things to eat and can survive.
What happens if the prairie dogs get sick and die? All of the predators, except one, still have something to eat. The black-footed ferret diet is 90% prairie dogs and they could die also. Prairie dogs are very important animals and 170 species depend on them. Prairie dogs eat bugs (population control), dig holes (creates homes for lots of animals), aerate the soil for better moisture, and graze on grasses to keep them shorter so the grasses need less water and grow better. All the prairie animals, predators and prey, have important jobs to do and each is an important piece of the puzzle.
Programs that allow kids to get involved with the animals will always result in some realization of why we need animals to do their jobs and help our world survive.
The Education staff is still coming up with new and interesting programs, such as Forest Habitats, so we will still be learning things and having fun long into the future.